Mohammed Shami has to be the most frequently injured player    IANS
Mohammed Shami has to be the most frequently injured player IANS

During an exclusive interview with VVS Laxman, the chief mentor of CricketCountry explained the perils of a busy cricket season. Remarkably, India are playing 17 Tests between June 2016 and March next year, and the gruelling India Cricket season also mentions 8 ODIs and 3 T20Is as well. India have completed the tour to West Indies, a 3-Test and 5-ODIs series against New Zealand. The Indian cricket team is currently busy in the final match of the 5-Test series against England, and after a 25-day break for Christmas and the New Year, the team will take field once again for 3 ODIs and as many T20Is against England all stuffed between January 15 and February 1.

It has been a jam-packed season for India wherein they hosted New Zealand and England, and will host Bangladesh and Australia early next year. With so many quality sides touring, it was always going to be one of the most challenging endeavours. The team has ascended to the No. 1 spot in Tests, and the pressure thus has understandably been greater to maintain form and performances. In a high-intensity season, the Indian cricket system will also be tested to the hilt for keeping their players up and running. However, it is improbable to achieve a state wherein all key players pass unscathed through a wearying season. Laxman explains, It s just that when you are playing at the highest level, you have to keep your body on the line. While doing that, it s invariable that you pick up injuries.

Laxman is indeed astounded with the fitness levels of this team, which he reckons is the fittest ever to play for India. While India continue with their march towards being considered as the best side in Test cricket since there are few doubting their overseas fortunes fitness remains the key part. The Indian cricket is certainly in one of its best phases, because even though the team has been without their preferred players at times, victories have been achieved with fringe strength. There is a lot of talent oozing through the domestic circuit.

FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs England, 5th Test at Chennai

However, keeping aside India s dominant performance in Test cricket that began with Kohli taking over from MS Dhoni and leading them to a victory in Sri Lanka in 2015, there have been far too many injuries, especially in this season. In fact, barring a handful of players, the list of players who got injured during the course is surprisingly long this year. Let us take a look at the 13-man squad of Indian players, out of which a very competitive playing XI can be formed with an Australian featuring as the 12th man:

Murali Vijay: We are going to look only at the injuries that players suffered during this India Cricket season. Vijay scored mere 7 in the first Test at Antigua during West Indies tour, and missed the second and the third Tests due to an injured thumb. Vijay returned for the final Test, which did not take place due to horrible ground condition at Port of Spain. On the second day of the final Test versus England, Vijay suffered an external injury to his left shoulder, and did not open for India later on.

KL Rahul: On West Indies tour, Rahul grabbed the chance of making his case strong in Vijay s absence. The right-hander scored a century, and carried on making runs in the home series versus New Zealand. However, after the first Test at Kanpur, Rahul suffered a hamstring injury and missed the remainder of the series as well as the 5 ODIs.

Rahul did not play against England in the first Test at Rajkot, but made a forgettable return at Visakhapatnam in the second. He suffered an injury to his left forearm at Visakhapatnam, and while preparing for the third Test at Mohali, he aggravated it while batting in the nets, thus missing the Mohali Test as well. He got a fine hundred in the fifth Test at Chennai but was not entirely comfortable with his knee.

Shikhar Dhawan: The left-hander s exit was imminent since he was lacking runs, but when Dhawan actually dropped anchor and looked to bat himself out from trouble, injury struck him at the wrong time. With Rahul around, his position was in threat as he was not scoring enough to keep his position fixated. During the second Test versus New Zealand at Kolkata, Dhawan copped two nasty blows off Trent Boult, breaking his left thumb in the process. Dhawan has made a comeback in domestic cricket but has not returned to the national side ever since.

Rohit Sharma: There still is a lot of time left for Rohit to make a return. During the fifth and final ODI versus New Zealand, Rohit Sharma suffered an injury on his right upper quadriceps tendon. Rohit was ruled out for 10-12 weeks, and he travelled to London for an operation and recovery. Rohit is currently on a road to recovery, and is expected to be fit sometime around the ODIs against England in January.

Ajinkya Rahane: India’s Test vice-captain, who is one of the fittest in the side, bowed out of final two Tests against England after sustaining an avulsion fracture on his right index finger. Rahane s absence for the fourth Test marked the first occasion in Indian cricket history when they did not have a single local player from the cricketing stronghold in Mumbai, playing in the city.

Wriddhiman Saha: The year 2016 has been watershed for the wicketkeeper-batsman, who made impressive strides with his batting in the lower-order in West Indies and against New Zealand. However, two Tests into the England series, Saha suffered a strain in his left thigh, and has missed the remainder of the Anthony de Mello Trophy 2015-16. India s chairman of selectors MSK Prasad has stated time and again that Saha is their first-choice wicketkeeper, and he can be expected to return in the one-off Test versus Bangladesh in February 2017.

Mohammed Shami: A knee-injury lay-off post ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 seemed never-ending for the Indian pacer. Shami was told by doctors to not even get up from the bed for two agonising long months after an operation. The pacer gave himself ample time, and caught the flight with the Indian team bound to Australia for two limited-overs series. However, he was ruled out before the start of the series with a hamstring injury.

Shami went back to recover, and in course of time he started bowling again. He even bowled to India Women in nets helping them prepare for the World T20. He was ruled out of Asia Cup 2016 but remained a part of the World T20 squad without playing a game.

Shami returned to Tests on the West Indies tour, remained thoroughly impressive and even played the two T20Is in Florida, his first appearance in the format since 2014. Shami scathed through New Zealand, but started hobbling by the time England arrived. At Rajkot, he suffered from cramps. He played the second Test without any trouble, but a stiff leg before the third Test at Mohali gave India selection woes. He was ruled out of fourth Test due to a sore knee, and did not play at Chennai in the final match.

Ishant Sharma: The lanky bowler, who has somehow taken a backseat with Shami and Umesh Yadav being in charge of Indian pace attack, missed the start of the India Cricket season. Ishant was sidelined due to Chikungunya after returning from West Indies wherein he featured in all four Tests, and remained out of the side for a long time. Ishant returned to cricket playing in Ranji Trophy clash for Delhi against Karnataka. Ishant, who got married on December 9 during the fourth India versus England Test, finally made a comeback after West Indies tour to participate in the final Test at Chennai.

Jayant Yadav: The all-rounder made an impressive debut against England, and went on to score a hundred in his third Test at Mumbai, helping India register a series win. He was ruled out of the final Test at Chennai due to a hamstring injury.

Hardik Pandya: His selection for the England Test series did surprise many, but Pandya never found a place in the playing XI. Pandya was released from the Indian camp when he suffered a hairline fracture on his right shoulder, being ruled out for the next 6 weeks.

Ravindra Jadeja: The star all-rounder was believed to have been struggling for fitness ahead of the final Test versus England at Chennai. As a cover, Akshar Patel was flown in. But much to the bemusement of the Indian support staff, there was more in the store during the fifth Test.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar: A strain to his back ruled out Bhuvneshwar from the third and final Test against New Zealand at Indore. Bhuvneshwar missed the first two Tests against England, and made a comeback into the squad for the final three. He played in the fourth game at Mumbai, and was dropped in favour of Ishant for the final Test.

Akshar Patel: He came out on the field on Day Two of the Chennai Test, after Vijay injured himself while fielding. He toppled over the ropes while taking a catch at the boundary, injuring himself in the process. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was dropped for the final Test, came in as a substitute for the substitute!

Special mention – Paul Reiffel: The list is finally completed, but not without mentioning Reiffel who suffered a nasty blow and bowed out of the India versus England series. While fielding on the first day of the Mumbai Test, Bhuvneshwar threw the ball towards the Australian umpire standing at square leg. Unaware, Reiffel stood his ground as the fielder coming to collect the ball did not even warn the umpire that it was headed his way. Reiffel was struck on the back of his head, and soon he was on the ground. He was rushed to a hospital soon, and was later ruled out of the series due to concussion.

Remarkably, this is quite a long list, and the risk remains high with still a lot of cricket to be played. India will face England in limited-overs leg of their tour, and then proceed to the one-off Test against Bangladesh, slated to be played at Hyderabad from February 8-12. The four-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2016-17 will begin on February 23, and conclude on March 29. The dates for the next edition of IPL are yet to be announced, which will take place in April-May 2017. The ICC Champions Trophy begins June 1, so you can imagine the workload that lies ahead.

While India would not want any more injuries, a crammed and exhausting season will continue to test the players to the hilt. But so far, it has been an impressive turnout by a few. Let us not begin with Virat Kohli, who is a fitness-freak, reported to have hit the gym right after being dismissed for an exhilarating 267-ball 167 at Visakhapatnam against England. Sourav Ganguly revealed to ESPNCricinfo that Kohli hit the gym immediately after returning from the field because he felt something was amiss as far as his fitness was concerned for batting long hours.

Laxman has special admiration for Kohli, whom he terms as the fittest Indian cricketer ever . He told CricketCountry, I have really looked to compliment the trainer. The fitness standards which are being maintained by all the cricketers has been phenomenal, starting from the captain, probably the most fittest cricketer to have ever played for the country, and [he] would probably be up there with other athletes in different games in the world.

The most impressive of the Indian players has to be Umesh Yadav, who has made tremendous progress as a cricketer. Umesh is athletic on the field, has been working up a lot of pace and has also contributed with the bat. For someone who bowls express pace, a fast bowler remains exposed to injuries. But Umesh is among a few first-choice cricketers to have played all five Tests against England, after Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, Vijay, Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin.